Short short story. Summer love for kids staying with relatives while school's out.
| She was the prettiest girl I had ever seen. From the moment I first laid eyes on her, I was spellbound. That summer she spent with her aunt on the farm next to my grandmother's was the finest summer of my life. I have never since enjoyed a relationship with such intensity or such abandonment.
I remember that moment like it happened this morning. I was scrubbed clean and ready for church. My grandparents believed it was necessary to save a boy’s soul whether he wanted it or not. Otherwise they weren’t too strict. My parents always went on a long trip as soon as school was out, and I was sent to the country to learn about life and enjoy relative safety and freedom for a few months.
I got out of the pick-up truck and ran ahead, not because I was anxious to go inside, but I wanted to see if any boys my age were there yet. It was a hot day, with little breeze, and the church didn’t have air-conditioning yet. We would all wave hand fans and get sweaty singing the hymns. The grown folks were all saying what a beautiful day it was, even if it was humid. I wasn’t exactly sure what humid meant, but it didn’t sound good. But it promised to be a good day for a boy who might go fishing or eat watermelon or find some boys to build a fort with him.
Then I saw her. Long blondish hair hung in curls over her shoulder. A white and pink hat sat on her head; she wore gloves and a fancy handbag. She had to be from the city. The girls who lived around here didn’t dress so fancy, and weren’t exactly pretty. Her shoes were patent leather and gathered dust from the gravel parking lot. She wore a simple white dress with a string of pearls. I had never seen pearls on a girl my age.
I thought she was a thing of beauty. Her teeth were straight and white. Her hair was shining in the sunlight. I felt like I couldn’t breathe. I stood there looking. My grandfather walked up, and said, “Jim, come with me. I want to you to meet someone.”
He put his hand on my shoulder as he walked with me and Granny to the next door neighbors. “Jenny, hello. I see your niece arrived safe and sound.”
Jenny and Dave turned and began introductions. I was the last one included. I can’t remember what they said to me, but I heard the name Louella. I could barely get a hello to roll off my tongue. She smiled at me, and I was all nerves gone astray. Everything I had ever known about language or good manners was lost. The crowd started inside, and we all followed.
During church, I couldn’t sing. I couldn’t pay attention. I couldn’t think. I did sneak as many peaks as I could at Louella. My grandfather tapped me on the shoulder a few times to make me stop looking at her. Granny smiled more than usual, but made no comments.
Louella Johnson, as I soon found out from listening to the grown-ups, was there with her aunt, while her parents handled some “difficult matters” back home. Her aunt Jenny was very pretty, like Louella; her husband Dave was handsome. They seemed like nice people. They had no children of their own, and were excited to have Louella visiting for a while. Before we left the church grounds, my grandfather suggested that I might go to Jenny and Dave’s that afternoon to show her around, get acquainted. They agreed that would be nice, and Louella just smiled at me again. I thought it was a wonderful idea, too.
At home, we changed clothes and waited for Granny to fix lunch. Grandpa sent me in to set the table. We said grace together, then ate chicken and potato salad made on Saturday. I was nervous and had a hard time eating. Granny and Grandpa kept smiling at each other and then at me.
Then Grandpa said, “Boy, I expect you better head on over to Jenny and Dave’s and help them out with their new guest.”
I was excused and went running out the door. I heard Granny say, “Eb, you don’t need to play matchmaker.” I had no idea what they were talking about, and kept going.
Louella was sitting on the porch as I rode my old bike up to their yard.
“Hi,” she called out to me. “Your name is Jim, right?”
I just nodded as I dropped my bike and walked up to the steps.
“I’ve never been away from my mother before. Something’s not right at home, but they won’t tell me. I’m really homesick. My aunt Jenny thinks it will help for me to have a friend. You don’t mind talking to girls, do you?”
“Nah, they’re okay. Sometimes.” I looked down at the floor boards, wondering if I had said the wrong thing. Then, I asked, “Hey, you want to want to go look at the cows? Or go fishing?”
“I’ve seen the cows, but we can go look again.”
She was now wearing denim shorts, a tee shirt, and sneakers. So we walked, ran, hopped, and skipped down to the pasture, then sat on the fence. We talked about living in the city and how it was different from the country. I was beginning to relax. And I liked the way it felt to be with her.
We left the fence and walked over to where the Christmas trees grew, spruces and pines. The rows were different heights, none taller than her uncle Dave. He would cut some down in the fall and sell them in shopping centers. We walked through them fantasizing about the decorations that would hang from them, and families that would buy them.
When that game grew old, we walked to the kennel where the hunting dogs were kept. We heard her aunt calling, “Louella”. When she saw us, she just waved and called out, “Just checking.”
We talked about school and what we would be when we grew up. I promised to teach her how to fish, and she promised me she’d teach me how to dance. She assured me that people were always telling the boys in her class that they would appreciate it when they grew up.
Dave came out and said that Granny had called and wanted me to come home,so we should say our goodbyes, and Lou should come inside. He called her “Lou”. We like that, so I started calling her Lou, too.
We walked around to the front. “I’m really glad you came today.” She smiled so pretty.
“I am, too. Maybe I can help you not be so homesick.”
She got real close, fast, and kissed me on the cheek.
We both grinned a lot. I found my bike and waved good-bye.
So each day, I got up happy. I washed and dressed to pass Granny’s inspection. I did my early chores, then ate breakfast with Grandpa who never failed to ask, “Seeing Lou today?” It sounded like the most natural thing in the world to do. We’d fiddle time away until either Jenny or Granny served us lunch. We’d fish or swim in the afternoon, or both. Lou would never bait her own hook. And she’d always scrunch her face up when I stuck the hook in the worm.
My mom called me at least once a week. Dad got on the phone before she hung up. They would always say they missed me. I felt guilty not missing them. But I was too busy and too happy to think about it much.
Lou, on the other hand, was very sad that her mother didn’t call more often. She was worried and didn’t know why. She suspected that her Mom called and only talked to Jenny. And that made her feel like her mother didn’t want her. Sometimes we would just sit together on a log or in the grass. I would just put my arm around her to keep her from crying. She would put her head on my shoulder. I knew then that I would always want to take care of her.
Finally, one day Jenny said, “Lou, I need to talk to you alone. Jim, you can come back in about an hour.”
“Well, Grandpa, is supposed to take us to town after lunch for a movie. Remember? You said it was okay.”
“Maybe, you should go see Granny and talk about it. Then come back, okay?”
“What’s wrong?” Lou had a frightened look. “Did I do something wrong?”
“No, honey. I just need to talk to you about something.”
They walked hand in hand back up towards the house. I ran to my bike and headed to Granny’s.
I burst into the house. “Granny, Jenny said I should come see you.”
She pulled a chair out at the table and motioned for me to sit. She took another chair. “Sweetheart, I know how much you love Lou. You’ve helped her a lot this summer. But she’s going to be leaving soon.”
This stung me hard. I hadn’t even thought about parting at the end of the summer; now she was going early.
“Why, Granny” I felt let down and disappointed. My heart was sinking down to the ground.
“They sent Lou here because her father was sick. He’s been under chemotherapy. That’s when they give you really strong drugs to fight cancer. Only it has bad side effects sometimes. They didn’t want Lou to see him suffer, if the drugs made bad things happen. They were afraid to tell her and were hoping that he would get better. But he didn’t.”
“You understand what I’m saying?”
“I guess so. Is that what Jenny is telling Lou right now?”
“I think so. Jim, Lou is going to need you to be strong. Don’t be afraid. Just be yourself. But don’t think that you can fix anything. You can’t. If she wants to cry, just hold her hand. If she gets angry or upset, don’t take it personally. She’ll get over it. It’s not your fault. People react to bad news in different ways. When she feels better, she’ll feel grateful to you for just being her friend. Okay?”
I dejectedly said, “Yes, ma’am.”
“This morning Jenny learned that Lou’s father is dying. His cancer is worse than they thought, and it’s growing too fast for the drugs to work. He won’t make it another day. So Jenny is taking Lou home to be with her mother. I don’t know what Lou will do after, whether she’ll stay with Jenny or with her mother.”
She sat looking at the table and held my hand.
Grandpa walked in. Seeing us looking so sad, he came over and put a hand on my shoulder. “Sorry about the movie. Jim. You and I will go another day. Get something cold to drink. That always helps. Then go back and just hang out to see if Lou needs you.”
Before I left the kitchen, Dave called and said that Lou’s father had just died. Jenny was already packed and was working on Lou’s bag. Lou was crying hysterically, and I should come say good-bye.
I raced on my bike. Dave was loading the car. Lou was red-faced, and so sad that my heart broke. I ran up to her and we just hugged.
Dave said, “I’m sorry. We’ve got to go.”
With tear stained faces, we held hands and walked to the car. Dave held the door. Just as she turned to look at me one last time, I gave her a quick kiss on the lips, then stepped back to close the door. Dave hugged me and ran his hand through my hair.
I stood alone, my body quivering, tears cascading, the car disappearing from sight.